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Mental Health Awareness Training Grant Awarded to District

Amherst Central School District was awarded a Mental Health Awareness Training Grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

During the first year, the grant money will be used to train school personnel and partners such as first responders and youth agencies to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders, particularly serious mental illness and/or serious emotional disturbance and know how to access resources.

The focus of this grant is on community impact, promoting self-regulation techniques and educating individuals, including parents, about resources that are available in the community. Amherst will work with community-based agencies such as Gateway-Longview, as well as Horizon Health Services and Crisis Services.

Members of the grant steering committee, which will meet quarterly, include Dr. Maria Oddo, Director of Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services, Assistant Superintendents Michael Belle-Isle and Dr. Lynn Shanahan, Family Support Center Liaison Juliane Grover as well as representatives from Gateway Longview, Town of Amherst Youth and Recreation Department, Amherst Police, Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County, Crisis Services, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and Just for Kids.

One of the first goals is to establish a cohesive framework for understanding the role of schools, community and families in supporting the mental health of students. Staff professional development began in early March with training from David M. Pratt, Ph.D., MSW, a New York State Licensed Psychologist with 40+ years’ experience working with children, adolescents and families. His session with staff covered a wide variety of information including the theoretical and therapeutic approaches to mental health, as well as learning the Family Systems Theory, an approach to understand human functioning that focuses on interactions between people in a family and between the family and the context(s) in which that family is embedded.

To bring information to our families, a May 1 session is planned at the Family Support Center to share details of the grant and the key components of staff training. The session will be led by Dr. Pratt and members of the Amherst CSD Pupil Personnel Services staff.

Dr. Pratt is in private practice at the Western New York Psychotherapy Services in Amherst, NY, a trainer with PESI, Inc. and consultant with Evergreen Certifications. He is presently on faculty with the University at Buffalo, School of Social Work, Office of Continuing Education and a member of New York State, Office of Mental Health Advisory Board on Evidence-Based Treatments for Youth. Dr. Pratt has conducted numerous trainings in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at local, state, national and international forums. He is the author of CBT Toolbox for Depressed, Anxious and Suicidal Children and Adolescents (PESI Publishing & Media, Inc., 2019) and Advanced CBT Toolbox for Children and Adolescents: Promoting Resilience, Positive Emotions and Personal Growth (2022, PESI Publishing & Media, Inc.).

Other goals with this grant are to:

  • Increase the capacity of the Amherst community to identify signs and symptoms of mental disorders including serious mental illness and serious emotional disturbances in school-age children.
  • Increase the capacity of the Amherst community to safely support a potential crisis situation through the use of research-based de-escalation strategies.
  • Strengthen and develop relationships with and awareness of community-based mental health agencies to ensure appropriate referral of individuals with signs or symptoms of mental illness.